Special needs people can thrive in UAE workforce

With government support, a researcher at the British university in Dubai looks at how a local company is able to offer people with disabilities rewarding work and the opportunity to shine

  • Special needs people can thrive in UAE workforce
    In December 2006 Desert Group began employing people with varying physical and intellectual disabilities as paImage Credit: Megan Hirons Mahon/Gulf News
  • Special needs people can thrive in UAE workforce
    A special needs worker sets up pots for planting at Desert Group’s nursery in Khawaneej, Dubai. Image Credit: Megan Hirons Mahon/Gulf News
  • Special needs people can thrive in UAE workforce
    Usually the retention for people with disabilitiesin a job is very low but Desert Group employed 41people Image Credit: Megan Hirons Mahon/Gulf News
03 Gulf News

Dubai: There is no reason why people with special needs cannot be integrated into the UAE work force, says British University in Dubai (BUID) researcher Nadera Al Borno.

The inclusion of this group in society, education and the work force is the focus of Al Borno's work as part of her doctoral degree in the BUID Faculty of Education.

She recently completed her case study on Dubai-based landscaping company Desert Group, which employs about 40 special needs persons, with support from the Community Development Authority (CDA).

The CDA will distribute the case study, which provides guidelines on employing people with disabilities, to organisations in the UAE. Her research is a result of an agreement signed by BUID and CDA last year.

"The CDA is keen to disseminate knowledge on social development that covers all sections of the society, especially people with disabilities. The insights gathered by [Ms] Nadera Al Borno during her research can support our efforts towards comprehensive social development and inclusion of people with disability," said CDA chief executive of Social Care Shaikh Maktoum Bin Butti Al Maktoum.

The CDA has launched programmes such as Al Kayt (a small boat connected to a large dhow) to facilitate access for people with disabilities (PWDs) into the job market, he said.

In December 2006 Desert Group began employing people with varying physical and intellectual disabilities as part of its corporate social responsibility efforts. In the course of two and a half years, 41 employees with disabilities were employed.

Al Borno's study was aimed at understanding the positive and negative of employing PWDs and she met with the employees, managers and psychologists who were part of the project.

"One of the key findings of this study was a remarkable 88 per cent staff retention rate, meaning only five out of the 41 employees resigned since the programme commenced, leading to reduced direct and hidden costs of staff turnover," Al Borno said.

She said minor adjustments at the Desert Group workplace helped boost the performance of the employees who strive to do their best and take pride in their work like any other staff.

Interest in inclusion

"Usually the retention for PWDs in a job is very low but Desert Group employed 41 people and in five years they only lost three or four people," said Al Borno who is adamant about their inclusion in society.

"If it's the correct job and they are treated well and they do things that match their skills, they will thrive."

Al Borno said the loyalty and dedication PWDs show is often much higher than regular employees. "It's all their life — when they go home they don't have much to do so their work means a lot to them."

She said most of the special needs employees come from organisations in Sharjah and Dubai. A few of them are excellent sportsmen and belong to the UAE special needs team.

Employing PWDs is not without its hurdles — Al Borno said companies would need to integrate employees into the workplace and take the time to teach new skills. Also, a psychologist would need to be available to help with behavioural problems that may arise.

"Right now PWDs are not getting their chance to show the skills that they have learnt. And there is a gap between employment sector and rehabilitation centres in not preparing them for the jobs that are available."

Al Borno said the policy to encourage employment of PWDs exists but not many companies follow it.

"In supermarkets, for example, they can be salesmen or work in the fast food industry. If there is a job that involves communication, they can learn to do it. The problem is that this kind of training is not happening in centres and employers are not aware of this fantastic source of employees."


  • carlaron

    05-Jun-2011 12:38

    Appreciate knowing of opportunities for 23 yr old quadriplegic boy residing in bur dubai. Appreciate all possible help. Thank you.

  • Freddy Krishnan

    05-Jun-2011 12:32

    it is a very good initiative to employ special needs children, provided the employers are thoroughly oriented about the present level of functioning of the child. this orientation must happen for all those people the child will interact with such that the ultimate goal of inclusion is acheived.

  • Pragna S Kher

    05-Jun-2011 11:52

    I feel very glad to hear about such a group with such a fantastic idea. I myself have a son of special needs, and I am happy to know that in some corner of the heart of the people there is a place for them. If such places increase, in no time PWD's will be accepted n the society as much as normal people are. Thank you Desert Group...for taking such a good initiative & I hope others will follow. I would even like to thank Ms. Nadera Al Borno & all others involved to take an interest in this topic because of which we have come to know that there are other people like us who want to see these people stand up with others. Keep Up The Good Work!